28 September 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (123) 28 September 2023

Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, London, ‘stands on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVI, 24 September 2023).

I am having my latest COVID-19 injection later this afternoon, and have two committee meetings later today, one this afternoon and another this evening. So, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Church celebrates Saint Michael and All Angels tomorrow (29 September). So my reflections each morning this week and next are taking this format:

1, A reflection on a church named after Saint Michael or his depiction in Church Art;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, London:

Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, is a mediaeval parish church in the City of London with a pre-Norman Conquest parochial foundation. The church noticeboard says Saint Michael’s ‘stands on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain, dating back to the Roman occupation.’ The church was in existence by 1133. The Abbot and convent of Evesham were the patrons until 1503, when it passed to the Drapers’ Company. A new tower was built in 1421, possibly after a fire.

The church lands were surrendered during the reign of Edward VI, and four tenements were built on the north side of the church, where there had been ‘a green churchyard.’ A churchyard on the south side had cloisters with lodgings for choristers, and a pulpit cross at which sermons were preached. The choir was dissolved in 1530 and the cross fell into decay.

The mediaeval church, except for the tower, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The present church was built in 1672 to design traditionally attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. Other sources believe Wren’s office had no involvement in rebuilding the church, saying the parish dealt directly with the builders.

The new church was 83 ft long and 67 ft wide, divided into nave and aisles by Doric columns, with a groined ceiling. There was an organ at the west end, and a reredos with paintings of Moses and Aaron at the east. The walls did not form right angles, indicating the re-use of the medieval foundations.

The 15th century tower became unstable and was demolished in 1704. A 130 ft replacement was built in 1715-1722 in a Gothic style, similar to the tower at Magdalen College, Oxford. The designer of the lower stages was probably William Dickinson in Wren’s office. The tower was half-completed when work stopped in 1717 due to inadequate funds. It was completed in 1722, with the upper stages designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The tower is topped by four elaborately panelled turrets, resembling those of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Repairs were made to the church in 1751, and by George Wyatt in 1775 and 1790. In his work in 1790, Wyatt installed the circular east window and south aisle windows. A new pulpit, desk, altar rail, east window glass, and 12 new brass branches were added.

The tower is topped by four elaborately panelled turrets, resembling those of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Drapers’ Company funded a lavish scheme of embellishment in the late 1850s carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Scott demolished a house that had stood against the tower, replacing it with an elaborate porch, built in the ‘Franco-Italian Gothic’ style (1858-1860), facing towards Cornhill. It is decorated with carving by John Birnie Philip, including a high-relief tympanum sculpture depicting Saint Michael disputing with Satan.

Scott inserted Gothic tracery in the circular clerestory windows and in the plain round-headed windows on the south side of the church. New side windows were created in the chancel, and an elaborate stone reredos, incorporating the paintings of Moses and Aaron by Robert Streater from its predecessor, was constructed in an Italian Gothic style.

The chancel walls were lined with panels of coloured marble, up to the level of the top of the reredos columns, and richly painted above this point.

Stained glass by Clayton and Bell was installed, with a representation of Christ in Glory in the large circular east window. The other windows held a series of stained glass images illustrating the life of Christ, with the crucifixion at the west end.

Herbert Williams, who had worked with Scott, carried out further work in the late 1860s. Williams built a three-bay cloister-like passage, with plaster vaults, on the south side of the building, and in the body of the church added richly painted decoration to Wren’s columns and capitals.

The reredos was enriched with inlaid marble, and the chancel was given new white marble steps and a mosaic floor of Minton’s tesserae and tiles. A circular opening was cut in the vault of each aisle bay and filled with stained glass, and skylights installed above.

Few of the original furnishings survived this work, apart from the font given by James Paul in 1672.

A World War I memorial was unveiled beside the church entrance in 1920, featuring a bronze statue of Saint Michael by Richard Reginald Goulden. The memorial received a Grade II* listing in 2016.

The church escaped serious damage during World War II, and was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950. The Victorian polychrome paintwork was replaced in 1960 with a more restrained colour scheme of blue, gold and white.

A new ring of twelve bells, cast by Taylors of Loughborough, was installed in the tower in 2011.

Saint Michael’s describes itself as an oasis of calm in the heart of the City, with a long tradition of Book of Common Prayer worship accompanied by excellent music. The church is a corporate member of the Prayer Book Society.

The Revd Henry Eatock-Taylor is the priest-in-charge of Saint Michael Cornhill with Saint Peter le Poer and Saint Benet Fink (London), following the move of the Revd Charlie Skrine from Saint Michael’s to All Souls, Langham Place.

Choral Eucharist or Matins are at 11 am each Sunday. The church is open most weekdays to visitors and for private prayer. Visitors are welcome to attend choral evensong services at 6 pm on Tuesdays during university terms.

The World War I memorial with a bronze statue of Saint Michael by Richard Reginald Goulden has a Grade II* listing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 7-9 (NRSVA):

7 Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. 9 Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Flinging open the doors.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Anthony Gyu-Yong Shim, Diocese of Daejeon, Korea.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (28 September 2023) invites us to pray:

We pray for clergy and lay people within churches who are always looking outward for ways in which they can serve those around them.

The elaborate stone reredos incorporates paintings of Moses and Aaron by Robert Streater (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers
of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with our whole heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The stained glass by Clayton and Bell includes a representation of Christ in Glory in the large circular east window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saint Michael depicted in the mosaic floor of Minton’s tesserae and tiles in the chancel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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